Annabeth by the Sea, Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

If one more gin-soaked asshole tries to grab me tonight, I swear, I’ll go to jail for murder, Annabeth thought as she squeezed between two rowdy bar tables. It was a Saturday night in June, and The Neptune was full of land-hungry fishermen and city folk from Seattle looking for the rustic charm promised by gas station travel brochures. The blended crowd was quietly divided at the beginning of her shift, but as the dishes piled up beside the sink the groups blurred into one another and the deafening roar of camaraderie shook the walls. A group of newly-minted deckhands in the corner booth started belting out a horribly out of tune ‘90s alternative classic and Annabeth, tucking a stray wisp of her copper curls back up into her greasy bun, loaded a serving tray with their ever-growing collection of empty shot glasses.

“McClure!” someone shouted above the noise. Annabeth stood on her tiptoes to see over the bobbing heads and made eye contact with Declan James, the lead bartender. He held a bottle of champagne in the air and motioned for her to join him behind the bar. Smiling, she headed back toward the counter with the mountain of glassware hoisted above her head. It took a minute for her to weave through the tangle of sweaty bodies, and Declan was tied up at the register when she managed to drop her tray by the sink.

“Mr. James,” she said loudly as she plunked the glasses into the dishwasher rack. “You know that you’re significantly less attractive without a bottle of French champagne in your hand, right?” Declan glanced at her over his shoulder and rolled his eyes.

“You know, that’s what Leilani said at first but look at us now,” he said sarcastically as he handed change back to a customer. “Five years strong!”

“You got lucky with her and you know it,” Annabeth laughed and switched trays out of the dishwasher. Leilani was short and petite, with a trendy geometric haircut that was always freshly trimmed. She was an art buyer for several high-end clients and spent her weekends at auctions all across the globe. Her wardrobe was in a permanent mourning period full of gauzy black lace and beatnik era cigarette pants, and she wore small round-framed glasses on the tip of her nose. Photo-realistic floral tattoos adorned both arms, and her slim thighs had twin portraits of Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. Declan had met her in a hipster Seattle bar five years ago, where he impressed her with his craft cocktails and bartender tricks. Within 48 hours, they shacked up at her apartment. It only took two weeks before Declan had convinced her to move in with him here in town. They’d been living in domesticated bliss ever since.

There was a lull in the demand of the crowd and Annabeth was dangerously low on supplies, so she took the opportunity to restock and reorganize the prep counter. Neptune’s usual bar-back, Eliot, was a no-call no-show for his shift that night so she was running the floor by herself and things were getting a little too messy for her liking. She picked through the fruit garnishes with one hand as the other wiped sticky puddles off the counter.

“Behind ya,” Declan said as he shuffled by with two fresh drinks in hand. A wave of his overpriced cologne and sweet liquor followed him, and Annabeth reminded herself to be subtle as she breathed in the heady mix.

Contrary to the ribs she often gave him, Declan James was in fact a very attractive man and it was hard to ignore. As he chatted with guests at the end of the bar, Annabeth allowed herself a lingering glance. His dark blonde hair was well-maintained and swept into a neat, vintage part that was somehow impervious to the heat and humidity of The Neptune on summer nights. He kept his beard full but tidy and relished every grey hair he found in it, claiming that the silver fox aesthetic was en vogue. Women at the bar often commented on his eyes, calling them “periwinkle,” “forget-me-not,” and “stormy.” Annabeth, ever the sarcastic witch, would mouth behind them “pretentious,” “full-of-shit,” and “watery.” She slung the insults with a wink, and Declan didn’t seem to mind. He always had a quick, smiling retort.

“Okay,” Declan, having managed to peel himself away from the two middle aged women who were working on their fourth round of cosmos, slid into place beside Annabeth. “Where were we?” He flipped a bar towel over his shoulder and looked at her with expectant raised eyebrows.

“I think you were about to crack open some overpriced champagne and offer me half the bottle,” she replied.

“Aha!” Declan exclaimed, reaching around Annabeth to grab the bottle out of the countertop cooler. “That’s right. Here we go.” He wrapped his towel around the bottle neck and popped the cork. “Glasses, please.”

Annabeth plunked two pint glasses, hot from the sanitizer, onto the counter.

“Pint glasses?” Declan paused and laughed. “What, were we out of plastic beer pong cups?”

“I am not going to risk your clumsy ass breaking one of our last champagne flutes just because you want to feel fancy,” she smirked.

“Hey, I bought-“ Declan began before Annabeth held up her hand.

“YOU didn’t buy anything and we both know it,” she scoffed. “Sweet little Gemma McIntyre was here earlier and I saw her clinging to that barstool like a sailor’s widow clings to the windowsill. Over the winter she brought you a bottle of limited edition tequila from her trip to Mexico. Last month she brought you a $150 bottle of small batch whisky from Ireland. Every time she comes around you get fancy drunk.” She tapped her finger on the still-empty glasses. “I know I’m right. You know I’m right. Now pour. Before the crowd gets going again.” Declan scowled at her for a moment before cracking into a smile.

“Who am I to say no to that cute face of hers?” He filled both glasses to the rim and tossed the empty bottle into the bin. “Cheers,” he said, and took a long drink.

“She’s 83 years old,” Annabeth exclaimed with an incredulous grin.

Declan, his mouth full of champagne, snorted. Foamy spittle shot across the counter and he slopped half the remaining glass down his front.

“And your point?” He laughed and dabbed at his chest with the towel.

“My point is that you’re a pig and should be jailed for endangering the elderly.” She took two quick drinks from her glass before tucking it back into the cooler. She could feel the crowd’s energy shifting and knew her break was over.

“The only crime I’m guilty of is being charming,” Declan said smugly. As if on cue, a group of newly arrived bachelorettes, resplendent in their tiny tulle crowns and sashes, raised their hands to order and Declan winked at Annabeth as he turned away.

She rolled her eyes and sighed. You’re an ass, she mused before hitching her tray on her hip and heading back out onto the floor.

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